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National Consultations for the Stockholm +50 Conference kickstarts in Colombo

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Malin Herwig, Deputy Resident Representative, UNDP in Sri Lanka addressing the state sector consultation meeting

Towards a sustainable and greener future for people and planet

As one of 36 biodiversity hotspots, Sri Lanka has one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world. In response to climate change with ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), Sri Lanka hopes to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and avoid capacity addition of coal power plants, UNDP said.

It said: 50 years since the inaugural United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden, we face a triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, as well as other planetary ills exacerbated by economic uncertainties, that are affecting our current and future wellbeing.

‘Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity’ is an international meeting co-hosted by the Government of Sweden and Kenya. It presents an opportunity for co-creation and a multistakeholder approach to accelerate implementation in the coming decade. This includes the relationship between humans and nature, what we invest in, and how resources are used and shared, all areas that are fundamental to a sustainable future.

To this end, the United Nations Development Programme in Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Environment have come together to host a series of national consultations and develop a Country Report in the lead up to the Stockhom+50 conference this year. The consultations aim to bring together a diverse array of stakeholders from across the country to ensure equal representation and expand stewardship in addressing the health of the environment.

Speaking at the state sector consultation meeting which launched the series of consultations, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Secretary, Ministry of Environment noted, “today the buzz word is triple planetary crisis – climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. These three together show the globe in dire conditions. Despite its low carbon footprint, Sri Lanka is on a low emissions path, and we look forward to achieving 14.5% reduction of greenhouse gases and increasing our forest cover by 32% by 2030. Pollution is the least attended area in Sri Lanka, however, we have now introduced sustainable nitrogen management as a part of our priorities. The voice of the environmental sector must come together for progressive-minded individuals to safeguard the interests of the environment. The efforts of the Ministry of Environment together with UNDP are timely in deciding our role at Stockholm +50. These consultations allow us to draft a country report with representation from all sectors in Sri Lanka.”

The consultations cover 3 themes, namely (i) the urgent need for a healthy planet and prosperity for all; (ii) sustainable and inclusive recovery from COVID-19; and (iii) the implementation of the environmental dimension of the SDGs. Engaging with a wide range of stakeholders from the state and private sector, civil society, academia, provincial councils, media and youth, among others; the consultations will gather input and experiences through in-person and virtual workshops, as well as online responses culminating in the drafting of Country Report ahead of the Stockholm+50 conference in June 2022.

Emphasizing on the importance of green development as we begin recovering from COVID-19, Ms. Malin Herwig, Deputy Resident Representative, UNDP Sri Lanka stated, “The journey since the initial Stockholm meeting fifty years ago has been strengthened by international dialogues and conferences through which global leaders have committed to protecting the Earth, culminating in the commitment to realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. UNDP in Sri Lanka, as the designated focal point, will conduct national consultations and support the development of the country report to feed into the global report which will inform proceedings at the Stockholm +50 Conference. We look forward to following up on the outcomes of the conference and supporting Sri Lanka on its green development trajectory.”

Sri Lanka has historically pursued ‘low-carbon’ development and has one of the lowest per capita energy intensity and emissions rates. For a sustainable future, immediate action for people, planet and prosperity is crucial to create a Sri Lanka that is built on a green development pathway.



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Wide ranging rackets benefiting CEB engineers

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By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board implements most of its power transmission and distribution infrastructure development projects like the construction of new transmission lines, transmission and distribution substations, etc., using loan funds obtained from international lending agencies such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

These “concessionary” loans are guaranteed by the government, and projects funded by those loan packages are implemented through specially set up project management units (PMUs).

Engineers attached to PMUs are given special facilities and monetary incentives on the understanding that they will work outside normal working hours and weekends to complete their projects on time and within the allocated budget.CEB often justifies these projects for priority financing citing “great national importance” and the critical needs to improve the power transmission and distribution infrastructure of the country.

Almost all of these project titles carry the words like “green energy”, “clean energy”, “green power”, etc., signifying these investments are primarily aimed at using renewable energy.

However, according to a senior official of the Ministry of Power & Energy, these projects are seldom completed within the given time period or budget. Because of this reason not only the expected benefits of these investments are often lost to the country, but the government incurs heavy losses by way of commitment fees paid to lending agencies.

Once project funds are committed through a loan agreement, the government has to pay this fee to the lending agency, generally computed as a percentage of the loan amount or the “commitment amount”. It is a significant burden to the government, especially in a situation where there is a severe shortage of foreign currency.

If the loan funds are disbursed within the original term of the loan, this “front end fee” is charged at a lower percentage. Hence, when CEB does not complete projects in time, the government ends up paying a higher commitment fee, and is also forced to seek an extension to the original loan disbursement period, thus incurring further costs.

Even more disturbing than long delays in project completion is that some completed projects have turned out to be wasteful investments of foreign funds given to the country.It is understood that the former CEB Chairman M. M. C. Ferdinando had questioned why the new 132kV transmission line between Ambalangoda and Galle, which was completed in 2017 at a cost of Rs. 1,500 million, remained unserviceable to date.

The Sunday Island understands that CEB’s System Control Center is able to switch on this transmission line only when the Samanalawewa Hydropower Plant is running at full capacity.This project had been billed by CEB’s transmission planners as a high-priority investment and solution for the serious transmission bottlenecks in the southern network of the country. Southern areas had been experiencing serious transmission capacity restrictions for decades.It is understood that the CEB General Manager has responded to the Chairman’s inquiry by stating that the commissioning of several new transmission lines that are presently under construction would make the Ambalangoda-Galle transmission line operational.

The 220kV transmission line from Pannipitiya to Polpitiya via Padukka is another example of a costly planning blunder by the CEB. Construction of this long transmission line commenced in 2015 but was delayed owing to many problems, including public protests and court cases filed by some landowners.However, when this ADB-funded project was eventually completed in late 2021 (after a delay of over five years), it has been discovered the power flows in the wrong direction when the line is switched on, causing overloading of the Pannipitiya substation.Hence, this transmission line also remains idle presently. It is understood that CEB planners have explained that power would flow in the right direction once several other transmission lines (being constructed under different loan packages, and already delayed by many years) are completed.

The then CEB General Manager taking part in a national television discussion following the countrywide power outage on August 17, 2020, explained that the unavailability of this critical transmission line was a major contributing factor to CEB’s inability to restore supply for many hours.Another example of colossal waste of funds is the transmission substation at Kappalthurai in the eastern province that has cost the country over Rs. 2,500 million of ADB loan funds. Since there is no high demand for electricity or no future growth in demand in the area, this installation will be idle for the foreseeable future.

According to CEB employees, the existing Trincomalee substation, which is situated about 11 km from this new substation, has ample capacity to serve the electricity demand in the area for many years to come. In the meantime, CEB has made a large investment in increasing the capacity of the Trincomalee substation as well.It is also understood that CEB’s Projects Division has been maintaining several non-functional PMUs for years, spending large sums of money on rented project offices and large project staff, even when no funding has been secured for relevant projects.

CEB employees complain that project directors and their engineers attached to these “white elephants” are allowed to enjoy all benefits, including project allowance (an additional amount equal to one-third of monthly salary) and luxury SUVs because most of them hold important positions in the powerful CEB engineers’ union.They claim that the CEB management never holds to account any project manager responsible for long delays, but they are allowed to continue to enjoy all the perks. According to a senior engineer who works as a consultant on project-related work, this guarantee of “job security” acts as a strong incentive for the project engineers to prolong their projects.CEB employees believe another reason for this lackadaisical attitude of CEB top management is that foreign-funded projects have long been a steady source of luxury vehicles for CEB engineers.

Most vehicles used by top CEB engineers including the General Manager have been provided under different foreign-funded projects, as the existing government guidelines will not allow the purchase of such high-end SUVs having large engine capacity including premium European makes like Audi and Mercedes Benz for government officials.CEB employees complain that the Ministry of Power & Energy generally turns a blind eye to these irregularities mainly because the majority of project managers and their project engineers are top officials of the powerful engineers’ union.

They allege that even the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL,) which has the legal obligation to ensure CEB will not make unnecessary or wasteful investments in its transmission infrastructure, has never questioned CEB regarding assets that are idling for many years after spending billions of rupees of public money.

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Gota leaves Singapore after fleeing protesters at home

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(AFP) Former Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday left Singapore where he had taken refuge following his escape from protesters at home, after he was given a visa only for about a month in the city-state.Rajapaksa flew into Singapore from the Maldives on July 14 after fleeing a deepening economic crisis and widespread protests in Sri Lanka. He tendered his resignation shortly after his arrival.Sri Lankans arriving in Singapore normally receive a 30-day visa, but authorities said they had initially given Rajapaksa only two weeks and later extended the visa by another two weeks.

“The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) confirms that Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa left Singapore on 11 August,” Singapore’s immigration office said in reply to an AFP query.

It did not say where the former leader was headed but the Thai foreign ministry, as well as a source in Colombo, said Wednesday he was seeking a new safe haven in Thailand.Rajapaksa fled his nation after tens of thousands of protesters overran his official residence last month angry about acute shortages of food, fuel and medicine endured by Sri Lanka’s 22 million people since late last year.An international human rights group last month formally asked Singapore to indict Rajapaksa for crimes against humanity during his country’s decades-long civil war that ended in 2009.

The South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project said it had urged Singapore to exercise universal jurisdiction to arrest the former president for grave breaches of international humanitarian law.Rajapaksa helmed Sri Lanka’s defence ministry while his brother Mahinda was president when the country’s brutal Tamil separatist conflict came to a bloody end.Singapore’s Attorney-General’s Chambers confirmed it had received a complaint from the rights group without giving details.

“His Singapore visa runs out on Thursday,” a close associate of Rajapaksa told AFP in Colombo on Wednesday.

“He had applied for an extension, but it had not come through as of Wednesday morning.”

The source said Rajapaksa now planned to go to Thailand for a short stay but return to Singapore.The Thai foreign ministry confirmed it had received a request from Colombo for the 73-year-old deposed leader to visit and an assurance that he would not seek political asylum.

“The Thai side received a request for the former president to enter Thailand from the current government of Sri Lanka,” ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said in a statement.

“The stay is temporary in nature with the aim of onward travel. No political asylum has been sought.”

The Rajapaksa confidant told AFP that the former leader was keen to return home as protests against his administration had fizzled out, but his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe had advised him against an early return.Singapore officials had said he was on a private visit to the city-state and the foreign minister stressed that he was not given any special privileges.

“In general, the Singapore government does not accord privileges, immunity and hospitality to former heads of state or heads of government,” Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a written reply to a question in parliament last week.

“Consequently, former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was not accorded any privileges, immunity or hospitality.”

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Harsha won’t join cabinet, but urges All Party Govt. to implement his economic recovery plan

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Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Dr. Harsha de Silva Friday (12) requested for the support of all political parties represented in Parliament for what he called a short-term programme meant to revive the national economy.The MP said so after submitting his set of proposals to the Parliament. The former non-cabinet ranker who served the previous UNP government said that he prepared the proposals in consultations with academics, specialists, professionals, politicians and ordinary people.

Declaring that he wouldn’t join the government under any circumstances, the economist assured his support to President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government through Parliament.Expressing confidence his proposals could secure the backing of external powers, the Colombo District lawmaker said that he received the blessings of Opposition political parties in this regard.

Lawmaker de Silva said that once the government took measures required to remedy the national economy the country could go for general election.The top SJB spokesperson said that Wickremesinghe’s all-party-government could adopt his proposals. Urging leaders of all political parties to support his initiative, the former UNPer said that depending on their support the administration could with the support of the public here and foreign governments overcome the daunting economic challenges. MP de Silva said that there was no point in his accepting a cabinet portfolio. The current crisis couldn’t be addressed by dispensing ministerial portfolios (SF)

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